A September 2006 court ruling could cost Stan Obrenovich his place on the November ballot, derailing his quest to return to council as an independent candidate. But the ruling has far wider implications than one man's campaign.
The court case, Morrison v. Colley, was heard by the 6th district U.S. Court of Appeals. According to an Ohio Secretary of State's directive, the ruling changes Ohio law and now requires independent candidates to be entirely unaffiliated with a political party, a claim they must make in so-called "good faith."
A little background on the case: After failing to be elected in November 2006 to the Madison County Republican Party Central Committee and Ohio Republican Party State Central Committee, Charles Morrison filed as an independent candidate for Congress right before the May 2006 primary. According to the 6th District court, Morrison was never "truly independent at any point."
Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner points out, "Ohioans are freely entitled to change or revoke their party affiliation at any time." However, in order to comply with the court's ruling, Brunner's directive amends that principal we can change parties whenever we like, as long as we do so in good faith, whatever that means.
She has told local election boards that, until the General Assembly or courts hand down something more specific, previous candidacy, political appointments and voting records may be used to determine if someone is affiliated with a party or truly independent.
The reason the court did not make a set of clear guidelines, however, is they are impossible to create. In the case before the court, perhaps Morrison simply became disillusioned with his party and decided to abandon it. Even if it was a political ploy to get on the ballot without winning a primary, it is the voters' right to determine whether that is acceptable. It should not be up to local election boards to determine intent and what is in anyone's heart something we all should have learned in Florida back in 2000.
We hope a higher court will eventually reverse this decision and set the rules as they were. Until then, Obrenovich will likely not be the only independent candidate in Ohio to find himself in a legal battle.